The Marquette Golden Eagles began the season poorly but have since performed well, as evidenced by a five-game winning streak. Victories over the LSU Tigers and Arizona State Sun Devils added quality wins to a résumé desperately wanting to forget losses to Belmont and Iowa. What do the Golden Eagles need to accomplish next in order to further build upon their bid for March Madness?
1. Finish 8-0 against teams not ranked in KenPom.com's top-100
The list: San Jose State #328, Chicago State #339, Presbyterian #330, St. John's #185 (twice), DePaul #129 (twice) and Stetson (314)
A loss to DePaul or St. John's wouldn't hurt if Marquette beat enough top-100 opponents. But, if we are measuring the minimum, then we must assume the Golden Eagles would not beat enough top-100 opponents to ensure a bid to the NCAA Tourament. In that case, an undefeated record against poorer competition is necessary.
2. Finish 7-8 against teams ranked in KenPom.com's top-100, including one top-30 win
The list: Wisconsin #30, Seton Hall #53 (twice), Georgetown #28 (twice), Providence #41 (twice), Villanova #5 (twice), Xavier #11 (twice), Butler #26 (twice), Creighton #67 (twice)
Seven wins and eight losses against teams in KenPom's top-100 would give Marquette a final record of 21-10 (10-8 Big East). The minimum effort to achieve this goal would require two wins over Creighton, two wins against Seton Hall, two wins over Providence, and beating Wisconsin. Of course, Marquette could compensate an extra loss or two with a great performance in the Big East Tournament, and it could, of course, save any sort of season with a championship.
3. Beat Wisconsin
The Wisconsin-Marquette game is an important part of Marquette's résumé, but its outcome will not make or break a bid to the tournament. Why did this writer choose to include it? Because basketball isn't all data-driven. A win for Marquette over its biggest rival and the defending national finalists could give them the best opportunity for a confidence boost. It's an in-state road game against a hated rival who has enjoyed great success in the past few years. It would give the Golden Eagles a chance to end the non-conference schedule on a nine-game winning streak, assuming that Marquette can easily handle San Jose State, Presbyterian, and Chicago State.
If Marquette loses to Wisconsin, then it's another opportunity for players and coaches to be disappointed and question the team's potential. That's the last thing a young team needs to experience before entering a tough conference schedule.
If the Golden Eagles beat Wisconsin, crush lesser competition, and win enough games against good teams, then there would be only one thing left to do: Pray.